By Megan Ruth
Mason Times staff writer
Among the sea of budget cuts, yet another financial burden has been brought to the attention of the Mason community.
“The next item I bring to your attention is a concern of mine,” City Administrator Martin Colburn said during the city commission meeting on Monday, March 21.
Colburn’s concern is that Capital Area Community Services is facing crippling funding cuts. The Mason area receives many services through Capital Area Community Services, including food assistance, which Colburn specifically mentioned at the city commission meeting.
Capital Area Community Services receives approximately $1.1 million annually through federal Community Service Block Grants. These grants allow the organization to operate outreach offices, which offer services such as tax assistance, food distribution, homeless programs and emergency utility programs. Ivan Love, Executive Director of Capital Area Community Services, said that these offices assist 35,000 to 40,000 people annually in the greater Lansing area.
The federal government has proposed that these grants be cut by as much as 60 percent. President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for the current fiscal year would cut Community Service Block Grants by a staggering 50 percent. The U.S. House of Representatives wanted to raise that cut to 60 percent, but the Senate rejected it. Capital Area Community Services is waiting for the final budget to be released on April 8.
Love said that small rural communities like Mason would be the hardest hit by the funding cuts. He says that if the 50 percent cuts are approved on April 8, Capital Area Community Services will immediately be closing the five local outreach offices since the organization has already exceeded 50 percent of their budget for this fiscal year. He said that emergency financial assistance is available but it does not cover costs for staff or the offices. This will make it impossible to keep the offices open.
In some smaller markets, layoffs and office closings have already begun. Workers in counties such as Barry and St. Joseph have already received notice of their last day. One worker, who wishes to remain anonymous after being advised not to speak on behalf of the company, says that while she will experience some personal financial strain, those that will be most affected are those that are already in need. “Most of my clients are struggling to find means to get to my local office. Now they will be asked to commute an additional 35-50 minutes to the nearest office available.” She says that the clients will also be forced to wait longer to schedule appointments for the time being. “We’re booked three weeks out, and the sad reality is that we won’t be open even that long. It is just sad that these people are being left behind.”
Love shares these sentiments and says that if the cuts are approved, members of the community will have to step up. He believes that organizations in Lansing such as the Red Cross will volunteer financial assistance, but “you won’t have that in places like St. Johns, Mason or Owosso. At best,” Love said, “there’s going to be a disruption in this market for three months to a year.”
Colburn, however, believes that some members of the Mason community will step up. He does add that this will require organization and use of community resources.